17 August 2010

Protest: American as Apple Pie

Ahlam Mohsen should be prepared to pay the price for hitting Senator Levin of Michigan in the face with an apple pie last night, but I find it hard to work up any real outrage at her action. Descriptions of the young woman from early reports of the incident range from "anti-war activist" to "violent anti-Zionist." Googling her name reveals a history that starts at least as far back as January 2009, when she and two other college activists were arrested outside of Levin's office in Lansing. They had demanded an audience with him to protest the Israeli bombings of Gaza then under way. That summer she went to Israel and was arrested while protesting the eviction of a Palestinian man. The Israelis deported her later that year.

The purpose of last night's pie attack was allegedly to remind Democrats that they share responsibility for the wars and injustice in the Middle East with their Republican predecessors in power. Pie attacks have been a popular protest tactic of the global left for the past decade, with billionaires usually targeted for pastry assault. On one level it's obviously a juvenile tactic, and people can be excused for declining to take Mohsen seriously. On another, the humiliation of the powerful is often enjoyable, depending on the observer. More importantly, Mohsen has pitched her protest at the level of personal humiliation. She wasn't out to kill Sen. Levin, but she had clearly reached the end of her patience with his apparent refusal to engage with her or the numerous Arab or Muslim Americans in Michigan who don't share the majority's love for Israel yet have as much claim on the Senator's attention as, say, Cuban Americans have on Floridian politicians. Mere civil disobedience wasn't cutting it for her anymore, but real violence, presumably, wasn't an option either. In another time, she might have thrown cabbages or tomatoes or eggs at the great man. A pie implies a self-consciously comical intent, and we should probably read it as a firm disavowal of more violent intentions. She should still suffer whatever the law requires, since it's still disorderly conduct, but considering the alternatives I salute her.

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